8 teams to watch this NBA season

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) does an interview with Sir CC and Moondog during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts. -- PHOTO: KEN BLAZE-USA TODAY SPORTS
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) does an interview with Sir CC and Moondog during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts. -- PHOTO: KEN BLAZE-USA TODAY SPORTS

Among the 30 National Basketball Association teams, which are the ones to follow throughout the six-month, 82-game regular season which begins this week?

1. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Last season's record: 33-49

New players: LeBron James, Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, James Jones, Mike Miller

Why watch them: When the best player in the world changes teams, Planet Basketball shakes. James' return to his hometown club after four successful years with Miami Heat sparked a dramatic roster change to the struggling franchise. In comes Love, a rebounding maniac who can somehow shoot three-pointers well, and key veterans Marion, Jones and Miller to provide stability.

Together with young upstars Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the Cavs could challenge immediately for the NBA title, even though common sense says they will take a couple of years to truly contend. Still, this is why all eyes will be on James and the Cavs.

2. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Last season's record: 62-20, NBA champions

New player: Kyle Anderson (rookie)

Why watch them: Like fine wine, the Spurs get better with age. For pure, team basketball brilliance, no team comes close to the defending champions' unselfish offence and throttling defence.

That they did it by simply keeping the core trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili for the past decade, then surrounding them with the right supporting cast of wily veterans and athletic youngsters, it is a triumph of collective strength over individual brilliance. Watch them before they finally say goodbye.

3. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Last season's record: 59-23, Lost in Western Conference finals

New players: Sebastian Telfair, Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary (rookie), Josh Huestis (rookie), Semaj Christon (rookie)

Why watch them: As their window for an NBA title gets smaller with each new season, they have to deal with a major injury setback to start this one - a two-month absence for reigning MVP Kevin Durant owing to a fractured right foot. While the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to hold the fort and not collapse, whether they can still remain among the elite in the ultra-competitive Western Conference is a big if, even when Durant returns.

4. CHICAGO BULLS

Last season's record: 48-34, Lost in Eastern Conference first round

New players: Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott (rookie), Cameron Bairstow (rookie)

Why watch them: Keep your fingers crossed and hope that Derrick Rose finally plays a full season after his host of injury woes since 2012. If he does, the Bulls look like strong contenders to win the Eastern Conference, on the strength of Rose, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and Gasol, who was instrumental in the Los Angeles Lakers' 2009 and 2010 title runs.

5. NEW YORK KNICKS

Last season's record: 37-45

New players: Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Louis Labeyrie, Cleanthony Early (rookie), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (rookie)

Why watch them: This is the first year of the "Phil Jackson" era for the Knicks, as the 11-time NBA title-winning coach becomes the president of the basketball club which he played for in the 1970s.

A dysfunctional franchise for much of the past decade, it should be highly interesting whether Jackson can pull off a minor miracle and get the Knicks' star player Carmelo Anthony a proper team of complementary players to lift this big-market club.

6. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Last season's record: 57-25, Lost in Western Conference semi-finals

New players: Spencer Hawes, Jared Cunningham, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jordan Farmar, Ekpe Udoh, C.J. Wilcox (rookie)

Why watch them: With their city rivals Los Angeles Lakers floundering with no supporting cast for Kobe Bryant, the Clippers have taken over as the best team on the Pacific side of the United States. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin should continue to lead a deep roster to challenge both the Spurs and the Thunder.

But the biggest improvement must be the ousting of ex-owner Donald Sterling after his racist remarks were made public. Freed of Sterling's notorious stinginess, the Clippers could finally blossom into a decent NBA team after years of being the laughing stock of the league.

7. HOUSTON ROCKETS

Last season's record: 54-28, Lost in Western Conference first round

New players: Jason Terry, Kostas Papanikolaou, Tarik Black, Clint Capela (rookie), Nick Johnson (rookie)

Why watch them: Because they can flat-out score, with James Harden raining long-range jumpers and Dwight Howard pummelling the interior, the Rockets are a hugely entertaining side to watch. Although they lost key players Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) and Chandler Parsons (to the Dallas Mavericks), their strong core should help them push for a good play-off spot come April.

8. MIAMI HEAT

Last season's record: 54-28, Lost in the NBA Finals

New players: Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Shabazz Napier (rookie), James Ennis (rookie)

Why watch them: How hard will LeBron James' departure hit the Heat? Certainly they can no longer be considered title hopefuls, but the perverse fun of this NBA season is to see where the Heat stand without the four-time regular-season MVP winner.

Dwyane Wade's health is the biggest issue; if his body continues to break down like last season, the Heat will likely not even make the play-offs. Chris Bosh, Deng and Granger must also contribute enough to maintain their status as one of the better teams in the mediocre Eastern Conference.